|Supernova exploding: Large Magellanic Cloud.
The Universe ‘s expansion is accelerating
Most of my classes this year are pleasant enough, absorbing placidly any small pearlets of what passes for wisdom and attempting to transcribe them industriously with greater or lesser degrees of enthusiasm. As long as I don’t actually require them to think about what they are writing, all is serene and everybody thinks that they really are getting their money’s worth. Shovelling academic stodge is like coal mining, it’s dirty and unrewarding but somebody has to do it, production lines and rapacious exam factories being as they are implacably unforgiving when a B grade is awarded.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that although dutifully turning out academically well-scrubbed and quite knowledgeable school leavers ( I really cannot bring myself to describe them as ‘graduates’), ultimately, I and my kind have become for them an enemy of promise, a bulwark against whatever genuinely original initiatives they once might have possessed. Nowhere was this more noticeable than in the last few days when quite quick and able learners had, it appeared not the faintest notion that the subject they had undertaken as a University prerequisite was going to actually demand of them some reflection, consideration, weighing of alternatives and deductive reasoning and seemed quite put out when I mentioned to them that that was supposed to be the reason they had elected to pursue further study in the first place. Furthermore, any hint of non-comprehension has far less to do with the fact that most fifteen and sixteen year olds are intellectually lazy and much more to do with their teacher, who, after only thirty years has learned his craft so very poorly and is clearly incapable of explaining things properly.
The Nobel season is upon us again and once more, those whose religious loyalties lie with the Name scooped some spaghetti this year, in chemistry and also in physics. Recipients join an embarrassingly long line of Jews both home-grown and from the diaspora, who far outstrip every other people group on the face of the earth at collecting Swedish gongs. Asking a Jew to name the greatest period of Jewish learning is problematic and he might be hard put to it to give a singular answer. He could choose 1000 BC and the time of Solomon with the beginning of Israelite historiography and Jewish law. Perhaps during the Babylonian Exile with the completion of redaction of Torah. Or 1135CE and the work of Maimonides, a cornerstone of Jewish thought and study. Even today, it’s almost a rarity to look at the Nobels issued in any particular year and not find a Jewish name among them. By contrast, Arabs imported the concept of zero from the Hindus over a thousand years ago and have advanced human knowledge little further since.
There are a multitude of reasons bordering on excuses for this. Learning is the pursuit of a kind or type of perfection and one’s attitude to it is often a measure of success. If we only walk the treadmills carved by the luminaries of the past, the tracks get deeper, thought hardens into tunnel-visioned principle which solidifies into doctrine which must be defended. Debate, passion and counterintuitive thinking is the fuel for fresh understanding which Talmudic scholars and their modern secular counterparts were and are rather good at. Stephen Hawking at the end of ‘A Brief History of Time’ wrote: “…if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.” A soundbite with a grain of truth. God is, and his universe is there to be discovered, to be known about and known and we, stumbling around in the twilight, are freed from the legalism of being compelled to absorb merely facts, instead mine the data for fresh evidence of His love and work. We are not called to merely obey since blind obedience is driven by fear and the unappetising diet of man-pleasing; instead we are called to search out the mysteries of God in the here, in the now as well as in the hereafter. Job’s question has an answer after all.